Former Ravens player speaks out for equal rights at McDaniel College

A decade made the difference.
Brendon Ayanbadejo's father was Nigerian, his mother Irish-American. In the early 1960s, there were some who thought interracial marriage was blasphemous. There were some states where it wasn't legal.
Ayanbadejo was born to parents of different races just years after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriages in 1967. This was lucky, the former Baltimore Ravens player and vocal supporter of LGBT rights said at a McDaniel College event Wednesday evening.
And he hopes in the near future, Americans can look back on this era and be amazed that not all states permitted same-sex marriage. This notion, Ayanbadejo said, that equality is meant for all human beings has led him to use his status as a football player - and member of the Ravens Super Bowl team - to speak out for the LGBT community.
"I have friends who have been together for 10 years, and they don't have the same rights as Britney Spears, who decides on a whim to go get married. Does that make sense?" he asked the dozens of attendees. "Marriage is about love. ... There's so many people out there, so many families who don't get the [more than 1,000] protections and benefits under the law of marriage."
He spoke about how a simple word can be offensive - the "f" word referring to those who are gay, or the "r" word, or the "n" word. This event was organized as a part of McDaniel College's new Inclusive Language Campaign launched earlier this school year aimed at promoting respectful and healthy communication.
At the beginning of the talk, Ayanbadejo told of his background - how he and his family lived in Nigeria when he was young, how at first the people were wary of his mother's different skin tone, but how they grew to accept her for who she was.
When he was 3 years old, he moved with his mother to the projects in Chicago where he learned at an early age that people were quick to judge. At 10 years old, he moved to Santa Cruz, Calif. - the place that cultivated his ideals.
"I learned that people are just people," he said. "And you can't judge anybody by what their skin tone is or what their sexual orientation is, male or female, you've got to accept people for who they are."
In 2009, he wrote a blog published in the Huffington Post titled "Same-Sex Marriages: What's the Big Deal?" that essentially said just that.
Moderator Joshua Fletcher, a McDaniel College senior, asked what the reaction in the locker room was afterward.
There was snickering, Ayanbadejo said. But in 2010, there was less snickering. And the next year, even less. The snickering had turned into open conversation about the issue.
But in 2012, state Rep. Emmett Burns Jr., D-Baltimore County, tried to silence Ayanbadejo's voice. He wrote an open letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
"Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or another," Burns wrote, according to a PDF of the letter on WBAL's website.
Burns asked the Ravens ownership to stop Ayanbadejo from speaking out. But he won't stop, Ayanbadejo said, because he believes he's on the right side of history.
"I believe that everyone was created equal and that everyone should have the opportunity to get married," he said.
When basketball player Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay professional athlete, it was a big step forward.
"It just challenged everyone's notion of what gay is," Ayanbadejo said, "and that people can know a positive role model that's completely different from a lot of the gay role models that you already have in society."
And Ayanbadejo is continuing to challenge the negative perceptions of same-sex marriage that some hold. And advocating for what you believe in is an important message, said Jennifer Jimenez Marana, McDaniel College's director of diversity and multicultural affairs.
"For us, especially for the students, I think it empowers us to just be able to speak out because it can be scary. Because I think it can be scary sometimes - what do I say? What do I do? But it's a simple step."

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